It’s been said that chocolate can cure all, and while we can’t confirm that it indeed cures all, we can certainly say that enjoying a piece of dark chocolate will provide you many health benefits. In fact, new findings are continuously popping up on dark chocolate benefits, so much so that we think dark chocolate should be a treat you enjoy every day, not just on Valentine’s Day or other special occasions.
What is Considered Dark Chocolate?
Before you start loading up on chocolate bars at the grocery store, you should know that the health benefits of chocolate are mainly restricted to dark chocolate. The health benefits of chocolate are derived from the cocoa in the chocolate, not the other ingredients, which are usually fat, sugar, and milk.
That means that the higher the percentage of cocoa there is in the chocolate, the healthier the chocolate tends to be. Milk chocolate doesn’t provide the same healthful effects that dark chocolate does because it’s usually made with about 15% to 25% cocoa.
In contrast, dark chocolate is typically made up of at least 70% cocoa or more. Most dark chocolate bars contain around 80% or higher, but you can also find quality dark chocolate bars with 70% to 72% cocoa.
Dark Chocolate Benefits
While the saying traditionally goes “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” we may need to start thinking about how a piece of dark chocolate a day can keep us healthy. Dark chocolate benefits range from better cardiovascular health to improved brain functioning. Here are just a handful of the health benefits of dark chocolate:
Dark chocolate is a powerful antioxidant
The health benefits of dark chocolate mainly revolve around the flavonoids that exist in the cocoa. Flavonoids are a naturally occurring antioxidant that helps fight free radicals that damage cells, proteins, and DNA in the body. This suggests that dark chocolate can be particularly great in fighting against oxidative stress-induced diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Can lower blood pressure
While the observed effect of dark chocolate on blood pressure hasn’t been drastic, there is some evidence that shows dark chocolate stimulates the lining of the arteries to produce the gas Nitric Oxide. This, in turn, signals to the arteries to relax and allow for better blood flow.
Reduces insulin resistance
Because dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, it can also lower insulin resistance. The relaxation of the blood vessels affects the uptake of insulin-stimulated glucose and improves insulin sensitivity. It should be noted, however, that these results were gathered from a study done on healthy subjects rather than those with health conditions like Type 2 Diabetes.
Dark chocolate lowers LDL and raises HDL
In a clinical trial published in 2007, researchers found that patients who ingested cocoa powder twice a day for 4 weeks resulted in lower LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and higher HDL levels (good cholesterol). The study also found that the cocoa powder helped reduce oxidized LDL levels, which are LDL particles that have combined with free radicals.
Lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
Because dark chocolate has cholesterol-lowering effects, it’s no surprise that it also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a study published in 2006 on 470 elderly men, it was found that cocoa intake reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 50% over a 15-year period.
Dark chocolate can protect your skin
Believe it or not, dark chocolate can protect your skin from sun damage and improve the appearance of your skin. Researchers have found that the flavonoids from cocoa, specifically the flavonol compounds, not only provide protection from sunlight, but they can also improve blood circulation and hydration of the skin.
Better brain function
Research has also revealed that the flavonols in dark chocolate can improve cognitive function and verbal fluency. A study was conducted specifically on elderly subjects who had a mild cognitive impairment and found that the subjects who were given higher doses of cocoa flavonols had improved brain functioning, both in response time and verbal fluency.
How much dark chocolate a day?
While dark chocolate has many health benefits, that doesn’t mean you should be consuming a chocolate bar every day. Like most enjoyable treats, dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation.
Most health professionals and scientists agree that dark chocolate should be limited to 1 square, about 6 grams, per day. More importantly, the quality and cocoa content of the chocolate should be high.
Look for organic chocolate that’s very limited in ingredients that could contribute fat, sugar, or make the chocolate high-calorie. If you’re used to eating milk chocolate, make gradual steps towards darker chocolate by eating dark chocolate that has about 70% cocoa. Once your palate has adjusted, you can slowly increase the cocoa content of the chocolate you’re consuming.